Ethan's Reviews > Lord of Light

Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny
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it was amazing

I specialize in Indian philosophy and have interests in other aspects of India's fascinating cultures. I'm also a science fiction nerd. So, this book is pretty much written for me. It often feels like a confusing, disorganized mess, but I loved it. The basic idea is just so cool: in the far future on a distant planet some humans use advanced technology to set themselves up as gods and goddesses from the Hindu pantheon. There are Masters of Karma, which allow a sort of rebirth through (presumably) downloading minds into new bodies. They even have "demons" ("rakashas," which should really be "rakshasas") that are the original energy beings of the planet. And, of course, the Buddha shows up to challenge this orthodoxy.

The challenge is that very little of this is obvious from the beginning, and much of it is deep in the background throughout. Also, the story has a somewhat odd temporal structure: book one starts near the end of the story, books two through six start with the beginning and then progress to book seven, which picks up where book one left off. A lot of what happens doesn't make sense until much later. If you're confused while reading this book (and I'm sure you will be), the Wikipedia page might help:

A lot of the stylistic challenges can be chalked up to the fact that Zelazny is very much in the New Wave SF camp. This even won the 1968 Hugo for Best Novel. They just don't write them like this anymore, which is a good or bad thing depending on how you feel about New Wave SF.

Also, being a product of the 1960's some of Zelazny's gender characterizations are a bit old fashioned: even though the goddesses are powerful, one rarely gets the sense that they're as powerful as their male counterparts. I can't even remember if there were any non-goddess women in the story. For a story about switching bodies and identities, there's very little in the way of inquiry into gender or sexuality. Even when goddesses become gods and vice versa, we're always invited to worry about their "real" gender. Maybe if this book had been written 10-20 years later, the identity stuff would be more interesting. Or maybe Zelazny simply had enough weirdness on his plate as it was.

The idea of humans using technology to deify themselves was later used by Dan Simmons in his Ilium, which focuses on the Greek pantheon and Homer's Iliad. Another theme shared by both books is that humans should work to throw off the chains of the gods' oppression (with gods standing in for any sort of controlling orthodoxy).

I can't decide if it's too pedantic to point out a few inaccuracies about Hinduism and Buddhism. After all, everything in the book is really a re-imagining of these mythologies by people far in the future. Pedantic or not, I could point out that karma and rebirth are traditionally most often thought of as a kind of natural law rather than anything under conscious control of so-called "Masters of Karma." Also, while using the word "atman" (self) to mean one's downloadable mind is really clever, Zelazny seems to have missed a fun plot point by ignoring the fact that Buddhists vehemently deny the existence of this self.

Whatever the books stylistic and factual challenges might be, I can't help but love the whole idea. Somehow Zelazny slipped through the cracks of my SF education until now. Lord of Light makes me eager to check out his other stuff.

See my review of this and other science fiction with ancient themes:
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Reading Progress

November 8, 2013 – Shelved
November 8, 2013 – Shelved as: to-read
October 5, 2015 – Started Reading
October 8, 2015 –
page 120
40.54% "So far I'm loving the idea and I don't expect strict accuracy on the Hindu and Buddhist stuff, although I'm starting to wonder if the author has ever heard of the central Buddhist idea of non-self (anātman). Maybe part of the point is that the "Hindus" have forgotten what Buddhism is? Anyway, I'm enjoying the ride so far."
October 12, 2015 – Finished Reading

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Ivana Books Are Magic yes, it is definitely a cool idea.

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